A few weeks ago, I was rifling through the sports section of the Los Angeles Times, when I came across a comment from a Kings fan in one Jerry Crowe’s weekly observational columns regarding this most recent season. After the initial shock of the Times actually using some of their space to mention hockey wore off, I re-examined the comment and noticed that it was pretty much calling for the head of GM Dean Lombardi if the team does not make the playoffs next season.
Of course, there was no name given to this person. It was pretty much framed as a referential anecdote thrown in to keep the column rolling. But it led me to think that this nameless fan’s sentiment is probably shared by decent amounts of King faithful who are tired of their seasons failing to extend beyond the regular 82 game slate. Now, even though I share the frustration with my fellow Kings fans – I mean, I have been looking for a reason to grow out a playoff beard, much to my wife’s chagrin – in this situation, I feel utterly compelled to ask the Dean Lombardi naysayers to step back, examine the team’s forty years of suck, and re-think their opinion.
In reality, now is most certainly not the time to start calling for heads to be lopped. If anything, these next twelve months is where patience is needed most. After decade upon decade of trying to build a competitor the wrong way, Lombardi is actually doing it right: Making stellar draft selections; trading away dead weight for future picks; not getting free agents for the sake of getting free agents (something that he mercifully learned after the Ladislav Nagy debacle); not rushing prospects to the big stage unless they prove they are ready. Some of the parts of the future’s equation are already here, like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty. Others will be coming within the next year or two, like Jonathan Bernier and Colton Teubert. At this point, the best course of action is to wait and let nature take its course, if you will. If you don’t believe me, may I direct your attention to the Pittsburgh Penguins. GM Craig Patrick did the exact thing that Lombardi is currently doing with the Kings, and the results have been most impressive over the last couple years. The Kings would do well to keep following the model that Patrick set forth. Well, except for that part where the Pens fired Patrick after nearly two decades of service.
The lone problem with this approach, though, is that the Kings still might be just a smidge away from sniffing the post-season. Granted, after the way they hung around the playoff hunt this year, the chances are pretty high that they will be a sexy dark horse pick for a lot of so-called experts, especially if they land a big-name free agent (and for the record, I do think Ilya Kovalchuk would look quite good in purple and black). However, even if they miss the post-season with the weight of that projected expectation, that doesn’t mean that Lombardi did a crappy job – certainly not one deserving of the axe. In fact, if the Kings do falter out of the gate next season, instead of picturing Lombardi’s head on a stake, just close your eyes and mentally fast-forward to, say, 2012-13, when the Kings have the best batch of blueliners in the Western Conference, Kopitar and Brown are in their prime, and Bernier is stubborn with pucks behind him. And when you smile to yourself quietly by thinking this, just remember how much of a hand Lombardi will have had in such a fantastic thought.